The Books of Oscar Wilde

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For Wilde fans wishing to explore the story behind the icon, De Profundis , a long letter written by Wilde during his time of imprisonment, is a must-read.

Learn English story: Oscar Wilde’s Short Stories

Convicted of indecency for his homosexual activities, Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor. Upon his release from prison, Wilde left Britain and Ireland , never to return to either. This extended poem describes, in moving detail, the brutality of prison life and the depths of his suffering during this time. A few short years later Wilde died at the mere age of 46, destitute. Marianna is a languages student and travel blogger with an eye for the unusual, a heart for exploration, a stomach for food adventures, and a penchant for a pun. Visit her blog, A Hunt Around Russia , to discover more.

Save to wishlist. Marianna Hunt. In at the age of 46, he died of meningitis following an acute ear infection. Wilde was born of professional and literary parents. His mother, who wrote under the name Speranza, was a revolutionary poet and an authority on Celtic myth and folklore. After attending Portora Royal School, Enniskillen —71 , Wilde went, on successive scholarships, to Trinity College , Dublin —74 , and Magdalen College, Oxford —78 , which awarded him a degree with honours. During these four years, he distinguished himself not only as a Classical scholar, a poseur, and a wit but also as a poet by winning the coveted Newdigate Prize in with a long poem, Ravenna.

In the early s, when Aestheticism was the rage and despair of literary London, Wilde established himself in social and artistic circles by his wit and flamboyance. Soon the periodical Punch made him the satiric object of its antagonism to the Aesthetes for what was considered their unmasculine devotion to art. Wishing to reinforce the association, Wilde published, at his own expense, Poems , which echoed, too faithfully, his discipleship to the poets Algernon Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti , and John Keats.

In Wilde married Constance Lloyd, daughter of a prominent Irish barrister; two children, Cyril and Vyvyan, were born, in and During this period of apprenticeship as a writer, he published The Happy Prince and Other Tales , which reveals his gift for romantic allegory in the form of the fairy tale. In the final decade of his life, Wilde wrote and published nearly all of his major work. In the latter, his greatest achievement, the conventional elements of farce are transformed into satiric epigrams—seemingly trivial but mercilessly exposing Victorian hypocrisies.

I suppose society is wonderfully delightful. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy. I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train. I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.

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That would be hypocrisy. In many of his works, exposure of a secret sin or indiscretion and consequent disgrace is a central design. Accused, finally, by the marquess of being a sodomite, Wilde, urged by Douglas, sued for criminal libel. Urged to flee to France by his friends, Wilde refused, unable to believe that his world was at an end. He was arrested and ordered to stand trial.

Wilde testified brilliantly, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. In the retrial he was found guilty and sentenced, in May , to two years at hard labour. Most of his sentence was served at Reading Gaol, where he wrote a long letter to Douglas published in in a drastically cut version as De Profundis filled with recriminations against the younger man for encouraging him in dissipation and distracting him from his work.

Perhaps the best poems of the volume are those titled "Impressions," in which "Wilde attains sharpness and total complexity in the depiction of scenes," San Juan remarked. This most exotic of all Wilde's poems begins with the raven-like sphinx planted in the corner of the poet's room and proceeds through a series of imagined scenes in which the sphinx is depicted as a goddess, a prophet, and a lover.

Reviewers criticized the work for being sensational and artificial, but later critics have found some notable qualities; in San Juan's words, "Among all Wilde's poems, 'The Sphinx' alone betrays a masculine energy that enlivens gorgeous landscape, fusing religion, iconology, and historical facts within the current of meditation and monologue. Frances Winwar, in Oscar Wilde and the Yellow Nineties, described this social aspect of his fame: "His life from now on assumed an air of arrogance. He would do nothing in moderation—except work. But then, his real work was accomplished when he talked.


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Before a group of listeners, especially if they were young and handsome and titled, he outdid himself. In the spark of their admiration his mind quickened. Epigram followed epigram, one more dazzling, more preposterous than the other, yet always, like the incandescent core of the firework, with a burning truth at the heart. That Wilde told these stories at dinner parties before they were published illustrates an unusual fact about their intended audience: they were not composed for children.

A few of the stories in the first volume, particularly "The Happy Prince" and "The Selfish Giant," continually find their way into anthologies of fairy tales for children, but most of the book's nine tales do not appeal to young people. This is particularly true of the stories in The House of Pomegranates, which generally have more elaborate plots and a more mannered style than do those in The Happy Prince and Other Tales.

When asked if the tales of the second volume were intended for children, Wilde replied in a typically flippant way: "I had about as much intention of pleasing the British child as I did of pleasing the British public. I hardly know whether to admire more the wise wit of 'The Remarkable Rocket' or the beauty and tenderness of 'The Selfish Giant': the latter is perfect in its kind. Wilde's love of beauty and his conception of its fleeting quality find expression in this story of a nightingale who sacrifices its life to produce the perfect rose.

In the story's final satirical twist the beautiful rose is rejected because it does not match the color of a young girl's dress. In Oscar Wilde, Robert K. Miller declared that this ironic turn reveals Wilde's "ambivalence toward love" that is "related to his ambivalence about women. The imaginative sympathy of the giant is similar to that which Wilde ascribes to Christ in his later work, De Profundis.

Both Quintus and Miller emphasized Wilde's moral point of view in these stories. This element has already been seen in some of the early poems, and it reappears in Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Quintus was careful to point out, however, that "Wilde's tales are not. This is Wilde's only novel, a blend of French decadence and English gothicism. It is filled with genuinely witty dialogue and beautiful descriptive passages, while sometimes descending to the level of slick melodrama and ponderous theorizing.

The novel details the life of a hedonistic aristocrat, Dorian Gray. When Dorian sees the portrait that Basil Hallward paints of him, he wishes he could change places with his likeness, remain always young and beautiful, and allow the portrait to bear the effects of time—and, as it turns out, the effects of sin.

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As in the world of the fairy tale, the wish is granted, but at a terrible price. At the time he was writing The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde became friendly with Robert "Robbie" Ross, whom he had first met in at Oxford and who later served as Wilde's literary executor after faithfully standing by him through Wilde's trials and the horrors of Wilde's two years in prison. Montgomery Hyde, in Oscar Wilde: A Biography, cited "strong grounds for believing that it was with [Ross] that Wilde first deliberately experimented in homosexual practices. I heard a clergyman extolling it, he only regretted some of the sentiments.

A particularly scathing attack in The Scots Observer made a veiled reference to Wilde's homosexuality and suggested he take up tailoring or some other "decent" trade. For the novel's hardcover edition, published the following year, Wilde made some changes, most important of which was the addition of six chapters and the famous epigrammatic preface. Perhaps surprisingly, the reviews this time were more favorable. Joyce Carol Oates in Critical Inquiry described the novel as a "parable of the fall" and identified Dorian's sin in his practice of involving others, "without any emotion,.

Oscar Wilde | Poetry Foundation

His life becomes a series of one-night stands, each encounter briefer than the last. The painter Basil Hallward, for all his goodness, sublimates his true feelings in the beautiful portrait. Lord Henry Wotton, for all his theories about the importance of indiscriminate experience, does not act. And Dorian Gray, whose actions with others lead him only to the point of prizing things such as tapestries, jewels, and vestments, unconvincingly tries to redeem himself with the village girl Hetty, but succeeds only in ending his life in a melodramatic fashion.

Though hastily written and clumsily constructed, it manages to haunt many readers with vivid memories of its visionary descriptions. From the reader's viewpoint, the picture suggests the treatment of angle and distance—the ways of telling and showing—which make up the perennial issues of the aesthetics and criticism of fiction. It is rather because of his dramas that Wilde's reputation has remained most secure.

Louis Kronenberger, in The Thread of Laughter, mentioned Wilde together with the great eighteenth-century dramatist, Richard Brinsley Sheridan : "The brilliant stage comedy that glittered briefly in Sheridan and then remained dormant, if not dead, for over a hundred years is in some measure brought back to life with Oscar Wilde. Britain's Lord Chamberlain, responsible for licensing stage performances, banned the play on the technical grounds that it portrayed biblical characters, which was forbidden since the days of the Protestant Reformation.

The play no doubt offended on other grounds as well, such as those expressed by a critic in the London Times in "It is an arrangement in blood and ferocity, morbid, bizarre, repulsive, and very offensive in its adaptation of scriptural phraseology to situations the reverse of sacred. This exotic one-act play has more the atmosphere of the earlier poem The Sphinx in its variations on the themes of obsession, lust, incest, and violence. Richard Ellmann, in Oscar Wilde: A Collection of Critical Essays, described this unity as "the extreme concentration upon a single episode which is like an image, with a synchronized moon changing color from pale to blood-red in keeping with the action, and an atmosphere of frenzy framed in exotic chill.

This impression was undercut for critic Alan Bird, who, in The Plays of Oscar Wilde, contended that even in this play Wilde's wit shows through: "Yet the reader or audience can never escape the uncomfortable sensation that the author is actually parodying the action, the words, the characters, the whole ensemble of the drama.

This suspicion of parody, however faint, produces an intentional distancing, a deliberate alienation, which far from allowing us to dismiss the drama seems to increase the total effect of decadence. This play and his last, The Importance of Being Earnest, reveal Wilde at the height of his powers, dealing in a sure way with those things he knew and did best—portraying the upper crust of society, creating characters who could mouth his brilliant epigrams and paradoxes in amusing, if conventional, plots. These plays use much of the typical material of the comedy of manners: mistaken identities, sexual indiscretions, cases of unknown parentage, and social snobbery.

Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, and An Ideal Husband also deal, in varying degrees of seriousness, with Wilde's favorite themes of the loss of innocence and the assertion of individuality. Lady Windermere's Fan was originally produced by the actor-manager George Alexander before a thoroughly appreciative audience.

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It ran for performances and solidified Wilde's position in the fashionable society he so much aspired to. He retained this exalted status for only three years before his trial for homosexuality made him a convict and a social outcast. But while his fame lasted Wilde enjoyed it with his usual flair. When the first-night audience at Lady Windermere's Fan called him to the stage after the final curtain, he smugly offered to those present: "The actors have given us a charming rendition of a delightful play, and your appreciation has been most intelligent.

I congratulate you on the great success of your performance, which persuades me that you think almost as highly of the play as I do myself. Lady Windermere's Fan is a story about a woman with a past. Erlynne, the fallen woman who years ago left her husband and her daughter—now Lady Windermere—reappears and tries to regain a social position.

Ironically it is the fallen woman who turns out to be the "good woman" of the subtitle "A Play about a Good Woman" , and the good woman of the first act, Lady Windermere, is forced to undergo a painful realization that things are not always what they appear to be. Arthur Ganz observed in British Victorian Literature that Lady Windermere "learns that a single act is not a final indicator of character and that a sinner may be a very noble person indeed. Lines such as "Why, I have met hundreds of good women. I never seem to meet any but good women.



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